I just spent six days in a tent with my family. This was part of an annual event where we gather at a lake resort on the dry side of the mountains with several other families for a week of communing with nature (bullshitting and lounging around).

An unusual amount of rain has created an explosion of flowers, quail, and voles. The voles are feeding a lot of other creatures, like owls, coyotes, and snakes. I videotaped four snake species (rubber boa, garter, racer, bull), two of which were in the process of eating voles.

I love kids and kids love nature. A gaggle of children followed me around as I ferreted out reptiles and insects for them to see. This developed into a symbiotic relationship. For the rest of the week the kids dutifully ran to get me anytime a creature wondered into sight. They also brought me any bugs or frogs they caught (like the caterpillar that matched the color of one little girl’s sandals). The memories of holding a painted turtle or rubber boa will last them a lifetime. Hopefully, as adults, these experiences will motivate them to vote green.

Like a birder who can spot every winged creature in a mile radius, I have learned how to find things that crawl. I often walk off into the countryside in the early morning to collect reptiles while they are still cold and sluggish. When I get back, word quickly spreads that Nina’s dad has a pillowcase full of snakes. The kids gather into a mob and I let them hold the more docile ones.

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The lake has a thriving painted turtle population. Like everything else in our modern world, they are an introduced species, along with the trout that the Department of Natural Resources stock the lake with so that they can sell fishing licenses to goofballs who then catch those same trout. The turtles are the descendents of the hatchlings that used to be sold as pets before their sale was made illegal by the forerunners of today’s animal rights activists. They congregate by the dock where the fish are cleaned. I have developed a technique for catching them. You walk up and down the center of the dock until one surfaces within arm’s reach. You then get down on your knees and (while staying out of site) crawl over to where you know the turtle is, but cannot see. Then, in one quick motion, you reach over the side, put your hand on top of its shell, flip it upside down and scoop it out. The children jump for joy and squeal with pleasure when it is their turn to hold it. My eleven-year-old daughter eventually perfected the technique. A smile of satisfaction spread across my face one day when I overheard another little girl say, “That’s Nina, she’s a turtle whisperer.”


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